Surprised by Glide

Over the years, I’ve put a lot of effort into getting good glide out of my classic-style cross-country skis. I learned to wax my own skis to get better grip and glide. I took lessons to improve my form and studied videos of ski racers—like Marit Bjørgen—who have inspiring classic technique. I also bought multiple pairs of skis to achieve the best glide in different conditions. My favorites are a pair of “zero” skis designed for temperatures around zero degrees. With zeros you sand (rather than wax) the kick zone, so you can even ski on ice. The glide is amazing.

Glide waxing:


Despite the fun I’ve had chasing better glide, this year I decided to pursue convenience instead. I’ve had a somewhat challenging year and my personal time has been limited. It takes time to prep skis and if you don’t gauge the weather and snow conditions correctly, you often have to wax or sand again while out on the trails. It also takes me about 40 minutes to drive to the beautiful track-set trails at my local Nordic club. Getting out for a quick ski before work or at lunch started to look like an attractive second best. So I added a pair of “grab and go” waxless skis to my ski wardrobe. Less glide, but more convenient. And good on the rougher trails close to home and work.

It turns out, though, that waxless skis have improved a lot. On my inaugural waxless tour through the neighborhood, I was surprised by how great the glide was. I sailed over rough snow and icy footprints and had some seriously good, effortless fun. But the great glide also made me suddenly aware that I hadn’t really felt free and joyous in a while. Unsurprising, I guess, given that I was busy choosing convenience over passion in the first place. But it was nonetheless an epiphany of sorts.

This got me wondering about the broader significance of glide. Glide is the lifeblood of most, if not all, sports. Athletes spend a lot of time working on form, strength, and endurance to reduce the physical resistance of water, air, and various surfaces. Swimmers adopt good form to reduce drag in water. Cyclists adopt aerodynamic body positioning to reduce drag through air. The result is glide. (Or at least the feeling of glide. Are cyclists technically rolling rather than gliding? Or are they rolling over the ground and gliding through the air? A debate for another time perhaps!)

The experience of glide also has interesting psychological dimensions. When gliding, we often leave judgmental, busy minds behind and immerse ourselves in the moment. It’s fun, and sometimes involves experiences of flow or “being in the zone.” Glide can also awaken us to the simplicity of being, or signal that we are drifting from authenticity elsewhere in our lives.

Given the significance of glide, now seems an especially good time to notice it in our athletic activities. From the standpoint of social and economic justice, this year looks pretty challenging. It will take strength to respond wisely (and creatively) to prejudice, cruelty, and bad behavior. Staying centred and keeping our collective spirits up will be important. In this, maybe glide can help.

And if not, at least we’ll have fun on the ride.

My waxing bench and current ski collection. The new waxless skis are second from right:


12 thoughts on “Surprised by Glide

  1. Thank you for this! On a practical level it’s very timely for me – I took up cross-country skiing over 10 years ago when I lived in Yellowknife, and loved it. Since moving to Ottawa, though, I’ve found it harder to get out – the pain in the butt factor (including waxing) is getting to me. I had heard back when I first started that waxless skis were crappy, but this is encouraging me to look at them again – to make it easier, which means I’ll actually have a much better chance of actually getting out there and doing it.

    1. Salomon also has “skin” xc skis. (Atomic as well, I think.) The Salomons seem really terrific.

  2. Riding is a word referring to snowboarding but is now a crossover term for downhill skiing. Sliding could be the broad, grossly simplified term for what we (downhill) skiers do. Gliding is how I want to x-c ski. This year I’m looking forward to more x-c. I bought Rossignol Evo Glade 59 waxless skis last year and love them. I want to improve my technique–thank you for the tip on the videos.

    1. p.s. to me, gliding is also about the risk of letting the momentum happen. Skiing is as close to the feeling of flying as I’ve come on terra firma.

  3. I love being in a flow state when I’m not getting in my own way, I’m just gliding and flowing with the stream of pure consciousness you could say. We’ve all experienced it and when it happens it’s beautiful.

    I actually read a book by an author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi and I think it was even called Flow, I don’t remember off hand yet I remember that having clear goals and being in the moment help to make a flow state happen.

    Great post, really got me thinking!

    1. I agree. I picked up some skin skis at the end of the season last March, and they are fast — almost as fast as my zeros on ice. The technology is great. The skier still needs work! 😉

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